I smile at the excitement and tension as the students
rustle with their gear. In a few hours they’ll
find themselves coping with an injured patient in
a dark, cold and remote environment. I’m pleased.
It’s warm in the classroom while outside the
temperature is well below freezing and the moon will
not rise for hours. The students will manage with
the gear they carry, make a decision to camp or attempt
an evacuation, and perhaps improvise a shelter and
build a fire in the cold and snow. These are NOLS
semester students on their Wilderness First Responder
Wilderness medicine without wilderness skills, experience
and leadership is an incomplete package. On many
NOLS semesters it’s possible to combine
our leadership and wilderness skills curriculum with a Wilderness First Aid
(WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. Semester students
always return to tell me how valuable these skills have been in their lives — from
responding to emergencies on personal trips, to administering first aid at
the scene of a car accident, to practical experience for medical school.
The WFA and WFR cover wilderness medicine from airway
to spine injury, asthma to pneumonia, altitude
illness to snakebite. In addition to the standard “urban” curriculum,
we address topics such as wound management and infection, realigning fractures
and dislocations, improvised splinting techniques, patient monitoring and long
term management problems, and up-to-date information on all environmental emergencies.
A WFA or WFR is a change of pace from a NOLS field
experience. The courses are usually held 2 to
4 weeks into a semester in a classroom with access
to outdoor practice areas. We go hard for 8 hours
a day, moving quickly between lecture and scenario
or practical sessions.
Semester graduates with the WFA or WFR credential
are well prepared for jobs in the outdoors. The
24-hour WFA is approved by such organizations as
the American Camping Association, the United States
Forest Service, and other governmental agencies
and is the minimum credential for many camps and
field work positions. The 80-hour WFR is also the
professional credential for NOLS Instructors, and
many guides, outfitters and educators. Students that are looking for employment
in outdoor education often choose the WFR semester. Not only do they have state-of-the-art
medical instruction, but their field time builds their wilderness skills, experience
and decision-making ability into the complete package.
One of the strengths of the WFR or WFA on a semester
is that students continue the medical education
and incorporate it into the field sections of the
semester and their independent student travel.
Continuing scenarios in actual field settings help
to solidify the WFR and WFA skills.
Liz Touhy from the NOLS Rocky Mountain Program Department
comments that “Knowing
first aid information is great, but it’s only useful if you have the
leadership skills to intervene when you see an accident, walk into a crowd
of people, initiate the assessment process and start organizing unskilled people
to help you.”
The WFR blends medicine with NOLS themes of leadership,
teamwork and decision making. As this group gathers
into their teams for the night rescue, I tell them
to be observant, to gather information to make
decisions, to communicate clearly and work together.
I speak to our shared vision of safety for the
rescuers, staying together and acting carefully.
Then we venture into the snow and the dark – to have some fun and learn.